5 Ways to Manage Dental Anxiety

Visits to a dentist can cause severe stress for anyone. Dental anxiety plagues one in 7 people, triggering extreme distress and panic even at the thought of sitting in a dental chair.

Because oral health is closely connected to the health of the entire body, regular dental checkups are crucial for healthy teeth, gums, and your entire wellbeing.

My team of biological dentistry practitioners and I want to help you understand what causes your dental anxiety and provide effective coping techniques.

What causes dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety is caused by learned fear. These levels of dental anxiety are typically based on traumatic experiences, shocking media, or stories from acquaintances. Many let fear of the unknown costs add to their stress and even keep them from preventative care, which later risks health problems.

Dental-phobic patients feel excessively nervous about dental treatment (including local anesthetic injections), the dental office environment, or the dental hygienists themselves.

The most common concerns about dental visits involve physical triggers such as needles, internal triggers like a loss of control during anesthesia, fear of pain, or the vulnerability of having your personal space invaded by a dentist.

If this dread is persistent and intense enough to extend beyond your voluntary control, it may qualify as odontophobia (dental phobia), which requires a strategic treatment plan.

Dental Anxiety Symptoms

The stress triggered by dental fear can manifest in a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive ways in adult patients. The most prevalent symptoms of dental anxiety include:

  • An elevated heart rate (tachycardia) or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • A nauseous stomach
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) that can lead to dizziness and fainting (syncope)
  • Anger and aggression
  • Social and emotional withdrawal
  • Visible distress such as crying
  • Frantic, uncontrollable thoughts
  • High blood pressure (hypertension), leading to headaches and shortness of breath
  • Difficulty relaxing, falling asleep, or sleeping peacefully
  • Feelings of worry, overwhelm, or distress
  • Intense panic attacks

5 Dental Anxiety Management Strategies

Can a dental hygienist help a patient with dental anxiety? A dental hygienist can help with dental anxiety with a holistic approach to oral health. Care for patients goes beyond the condition of their teeth and gums.

Some offices give you a questionnaire or a dental anxiety scale assessment to figure out the best way to move forward. The goal is to reduce the stress experienced by anxious patients, equipping them with dental anxiety management techniques that can help alleviate dental fears.

We encourage you to practice these strategies if you’re afraid of a dental visit or dental procedure.

1. Prepare for the Visit

It’s important to recognize and practice self-care before scheduling your dental appointment. Cultivating mindfulness can help ease your anxiety so that it’s easier to handle the stress of your dental work.

A core component of managing anxiety is having psychological coping strategies that you can employ to keep your stress at bay and alleviate it when it starts to rise.

These coping techniques can include:

  • deep breathing exercises
  • meditation
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • counting backward from 100
  • holding a familiar item
  • reciting an anchoring phrase

Good self-care also extends to your daily habits, such as eating well-balanced meals, exercising, getting enough sleep, and taking good care of your oral health.

2. Communicate With Your Dentist

If you suffer from anxiety, we at Rejuvenation Dentistry want to know. Not every dental office in New York takes patient anxiety seriously, but we do. Our holistic approach to health care extends beyond the condition of your teeth to even your mental and emotional wellbeing.

When you schedule an appointment with us, our clinicians want to know upfront about any anxiety you have about visiting or may experience during your time here. Knowing this will help us be prepared to address your concerns.

When you express your fears, we won’t dismiss your concerns. Instead, we’ll discuss techniques that we can offer to help you remain calm.

Some of the practices that we can use to ease your apprehension in the dental chair include:

  • Describing everything we’re doing and reassuring you as we do it
  • Asking for your permission/consent before acting
  • Establishing a signal you can use when you want us to stop, such as tapping your foot or hand
  • Having a consultation to meet with your dentist to get to know them before they perform any work
  • Using alternatives to traditional dentistry methods, such as laser dentistry in place of drilling

Honest communication with your dentist, dental hygienist, and even the receptionist is crucial for effectively navigating dental anxiety.

3. Distract Yourself

Distraction is a common way to manage dental anxiety. Instead of focusing on what the hygienist is doing, give yourself something to draw your attention away during your dental experience.

Here are a few easy things that may distract you and reduce dental anxiety:

  • Listen to your favorite music through noise-canceling earbuds (music therapy)
  • Bring a fidget object to hold in your hand
  • Ask a friend or family member to accompany you, hold your hand, and talk with you
  • Watch a low-tension video program on a television or personal device
  • Carry essential oils for aromatherapy
  • Practice visualization techniques
  • Use CBD for easing pain and anxiety

4. Ask about Medication

In some extreme cases of dental anxiety, medication may be necessary to provide the calming effect needed to achieve proper dental health.

Talk with a dentist at Rejuvenation Dentistry about the possible need for a conscious sedation solution like nitrous oxide analgesia (commonly known as laughing gas) or general anesthesia.

We want to make your experience stress-free and painless, so we’re happy to discuss the benefits and potential side effects of the oral sedatives we offer.

You may also want to talk with your physician about the possibility of an anxiety disorder diagnosis and a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. If you find that dental visits are just one item on an endless list of daily experiences that cause feelings of panic and overwhelm, you may have an anxiety disorder.

5. Take Care of Your Teeth

The best way to care for your teeth regularly is to follow these simple steps:

  1. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day
  2. Scrape your tongue at least once per day
  3. Use chewable oral probiotics, especially if you experience bad breath or bleeding gums
  4. Stay well-hydrated (drink at least 60-80 ounces of water per day)
  5. Eat a diet rich in prebiotic foods (like leafy green vegetables), probiotic foods (with healthy bacteria), healthy fats, and clean proteins
  6. Avoid acidic or antibacterial products and foods in the mouth, including antibacterial mouthwash

Taking care of your teeth is about more than simply brushing daily. It’s about nurturing your mouth’s natural ecology to promote balanced, holistic wellbeing that extends throughout your body. That’s why using the proper oral hygiene products is so important.

Using toothpaste such as Revitin can help cultivate a thriving oral microbiome with vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics.

Coping with Dental Anxiety

We don’t want anyone to experience fear when visiting our biological dental practice in Manhattan or East Hampton. But we understand that dental anxiety is a normal feeling for many people.

Because of our holistic approach to oral, bodily, emotional, and mental health, we believe that a successful dental experience involves more than just cleaning your teeth and gums. We want our dental patients to feel at ease in our office, from the waiting room to the dentist’s chair, so we’re happy to discuss your needs to relieve dental anxiety.

The purpose of anxiety management is to facilitate your oral wellbeing. Studies show a correlation between dental anxiety, visitation avoidance, and poor dental health.

In other words, not going to the dentist for preventive care increases problems that force you to the dentist, like the need for a root canal or tooth extraction. It’s a vicious cycle.

Thus, the danger of dental anxiety goes well beyond the sensations of panic you may feel during an appointment. Untreated fear may lead to dental avoidance, the habit of neglecting to visit a professional for long periods of time, leading to poor dental care and even further anxiety.

If you experience extreme anxiety at the thought of having your teeth worked on, our dental team can help you find a solution to receiving stress-free dental care, from routine dental cleanings to serious procedures. Contact us to discuss treatment options.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.